Helen Baldwin

Helen Baldwin Helen was born at Blayney, NSW, in  December 1912.  From early childhood, pictures of Aboriginal people fascinated her.  In the mid 1920's, Helen and her family moved to Springwood, NSW, in the Blue Mountains, where she met Norman Lindsay.  He encouraged her to paint and sought her to attend the East Sydney Technical College where some of her teachers were Douglas Dundas, Fred Leist and Roy Davies.  Helen first visited the outback of NSW in 1948, then, year after year saw Helen visit all of the Northern Territory; parts of Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.  Through her friendship with Michael Ellis and his wife Lizzie, a full-blood aboriginal of the NGAANATJARRA tribe, Helen has had the privilege of visiting special areas of Australia that very few white Australians have ever seen.

The natural affinity for central Australia, the deserts and its people is truly felt and is visible in all of Helen's works in the hardest medium of all to paint, watercolour.


She is able to see and capture these wonderful people, dressed in a profusion of brightly coloured western style clothing.  Her paintings show the eternal dust and harshness of the area in the daytime, through to the happiness at night, where all the camp fire and dreamtime stories hold the mythologies and spiritualities of these ancient principles, especially in the eyes of the Elders.

In all parts of the central Australian universe, these people with their few possessions hold dear to their beliefs and traditions. This in turn features strongly in Helen's works in which she captures their wisdom, grace, siimplicity, spontaneity and special culture. Despite her shyness, quiet charm and sensitivity, Helen Baldwin has an earthy humour and delights in reminiscing in her various jounrneys and their stories. She sees her art as a pictorial record of central Australia, its people and their ancestors who made the first footprints in this ancient land.

An outstanding feature of Helen's work is replicating some of her paintings into Petit Point (needlework). her early works are a density of 1000 knots per square inch. Today, you can only buy canvas to 750 knots per square inch. Through this form, Helen has achieved a world first with scenes of historical elders, children and landscapes.

Her works hang around the world in many corporate and private collections, including the Duchess of Kent, Princess Alexandra, The Duchess of York, and former Presidents of the United States.

Helen passed away on Tuesday 28th September aged 108 and 9 months.  Her art will be preserved and treasured for many years to come. 

Helen Baldwin

story written by Helen

My father told me I was found on the 8th of December in Blayney (a town west of the Blue Mountains, hot in Summer and cold in winter) under a japonica shrub covered in red blossoms with the white snowflakes falling down. My mothers story was that the Doctor said here kiss your baby and the church bells were ringing. After twelve months in Blayney my parents moved to Gulgong and two years later my sister was born. Gulgong is an old mining town and there were mullock heaps every where like white ants nests, but have now disappeared. An old gold mine with a goat opposite the Public school which I attended – After rain people could be seen peering into the gutters and most had a junket bottle with specks of gold they had gathered. Always I wanted to draw or paint, my aunts autograph books were filled with grim looking fairies carrying a wand with a star on top and wearing a tiara. After Gulgong it was Mudgee High School. I hated my school years, I only wanted to paint. Two older girls and myself wandered all over Gulgong gathering wild flowers and climbing the hill behind the school.


My father was interested in all nature. He showed us how the trapdoor spider pulled his door shut when inside, how the birds nested and many other things. Maybe that accounts for my love of the bush and of the outback and my sisters great love of Botany. Then there was our mother who did the most beautiful tatting and crotchet and lots of other fine hand work.

After Mudgee it was Springwood in the Blue Mountains and we just about lived in the bush – the gulleys were beautiful and not much pollution. Sad to see houses where Lyre Birds courted and staghorns hung in the trees (and leeches!!)

When at Springwood I left school and worked with a commercial artist whose work was mostly film posters but he went to America. At that period of my life there were many dances in Springwood and everyone attended – we all sat around the hall well chaperoned by our mothers – Rose Lindsay always brought a party – she danced well and wore magnificent costumes.

Norman often came – he would enter the hall look around in his quick way and walk over and dance with me – I felt I was dancing with God – he was always interesting and kind and bought lucky dips – his enthusiasm for every little thing always amazed us all. Those lucky dips were as exciting as a treasure chest. We could barely wait for them and the contents, well, a cap, a squeaky blow out thing and a few sweets, maybe a card which predicted ones good fortune for the future.

Rose once came dressed as a gladiator, another time in Spanish costume with a black and red shawl slung across her magnificent shoulders and a comb in her hair. Fred Liest told me she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.

Norman Lindsay suggested I go to the East Sydney Art School which I did. Went straight into the life classes but had to go to 2nd year design and modeling and the commercial art classes as it was essential for me to earn a living.

Douglas Dundas, Fred Liest and Roy Davies were instructing at that time – Raynor Hoff who died a few months after I began was making those large figures on the Hyde Park Memorial – 4th year I had a scholarship to college and was asked by Roy Davies, then the Principal, to set a course in fine Arts and commercial Arts for future Diplomas. However things were grim and I’m ashamed to say I had the opportunity to work for a commercial artist and took it and just left – that with many regrets.

Then came World War 2 and I married Eric Skarratt and architect whose family lived at Glenbrook, we had one son – but whenever I could I sketched or painted – was told I had a natural aptitude for both figure drawing and watercolour and to keep to it, I have. Rose and Norman Lindsay were kind and helpful. It was seeing Rose Lindsay doing some needle work for a screen that started me off with my needle point – as I very much love this country and all the wonderful things in it I saw no need to keep to traditional designs but to do some things that were Australian – the indigenous people and their way of life and the far away places they are so much part of.

My husband and I lived in a very small house known as Foo’s cottage for that is the name locals had chalked up on the front door.

It was the first store house in Glenbrook as the railway crossing was just in front of it. It was mighty dilapidated and had a bull-nosed iron verandah which one stepped off onto the street and an old Butcher shop on the corner – which we pulled down and for years and years nothing would grow because of the salt in the ground. Later we built behind this house as we had a garden and didn't want to part with one bed as we only had two silky oak trees on our block to begin with and we had planted so much. I had made figures in concrete a recipe on how to do it written out by Norman Lindsay and my husband had made a fountain use an old washing machine motor to work the reticulation. The little house was bursting at the seams. It was demolished with regret.

We took many trips out west along the western rivers – Barwon, Namoi & others. It was a great meeting place for the aboriginal people once – where the Rivers all come together to make the Darling also into Western Queensland where we had relations at Longreach – we visited the Paroo.

The black soil around Wilcannia fascinated me – the colours – superb grey green foliage; grey soil cracked from recent drought; the river with its creamy water flowing south; the banks showing marks of all the water levels and the river gums, grey with their dead branches blackened and as many roots showing below as there were branches above, all reflected clearly in the river.

It was in Wilcannia having a meal on our way to Broken Hill that I decided this was the colour for my chair seats screen etc. and from then on I covered everything in our home (just about) that needed upholstery with needle point or gros point cols one never grows weary of.

Helen Baldwin

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